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PHOENIX – Here it is, the Hot Stove you’ve been waiting for, White Sox fans.
Well, kind of.
Who knows if the one-two punch of Joe Kelly and Josh Harrison is enough to get the South Side rocking any more than the pre-lockout signings of Kendall Graveman and Leury García did, but it’s the first action for Rick Hahn’s front office since the end of the lockout-imposed freeze of the last three months.
The good news is that both additions – the two-year signing of Kelly comes via multiple reports, including USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, with Harrison’s one-year signing tweeted out by his agency – address areas of need for the White Sox. Kelly, specifically, is the exact type of addition a depleted relief corps needed, a reliable veteran who’s had a bunch of recent success. Harrison’s role will be more of a mystery until Hahn’s offseason picture is fully painted, but he joins an infield that needed more oomph at second base, allowing García to do his thing of playing all over the field.
Kelly’s best known to most fans as the guy who mouthed off to the Astros in the wake of their 2017 championship being revealed as tainted, the result of a sign-stealing scandal. He’s been a very good reliever for a very long time, entering his 11th season as a big leaguer. His two most recent were perhaps his best, during which he combined for a sub-3.00 ERA with the Dodgers, winning a championship ring in 2020 to go along with the one he got with the Red Sox in 2018, when Tony La Russa was a part of the Boston front office. Kelly came up with the Cardinals, starting his major league career the year after La Russa’s 2011 championship season in St. Louis.
Most importantly, though, Kelly joins the back end of a White Sox bullpen that has a late-inning monster in the works. Liam Hendriks owns the ninth, winning a second straight AL Reliever of the Year Award following his dominant first season as a South Sider. Graveman and Aaron Bummer already made for a solid setup duo, and now Kelly can be counted as the latest part.
Kelly’s addition also signals that a trade of Craig Kimbrel, seemingly likely since Hahn spoke openly of the future Hall of Famer as a trade candidate in November, could be one of the team’s next moves. Just Saturday, La Russa pointed to Kimbrel’s continued employment by the White Sox as a good thing, going as far to say he believes Kimbrel will be on the Opening Day roster. In talking up a potential bounce back, La Russa leaned on Kimbrel’s past rather than his struggles after joining the team in a midseason trade last summer. And heck, a return to form is hardly out of the question, presenting the opportunity for an absolutely ferocious ‘pen. But the back end has suddenly crowded with talent, and Kimbrel, who struggled in his transition from All-Star closer to eight-inning guy, could benefit the White Sox in other ways going the other way in a springtime trade.
Meanwhile, Harrison joins a White Sox infield that needed a second baseman. Is he that everyday guy? Or is he on board to share time with García at the position? García had a nice season in 2021, but his best attribute is his versatility and using him as the primary second baseman would rob La Russa of the ability to play García all over the field. Harrison, too, is a versatile player, a two-time All Star with a productive enough bat the last two seasons to bump his OPS-plus north of 100.
Still, though, the wonder is whether the plan is to make Harrison the everyday second baseman, use him as part of a timeshare with García, or simply to upgrade the reserve unit. García is always going to be the puzzle piece that fits everywhere. Harrison could be an improvement to the backup-infielder crew of Danny Mendick and Romy Gonzalez, with the hunt for an everyday second baseman of greater impact ongoing. Or he could be aboard to take on a much bigger role.
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